CCAFS / Climate Change / ILRI / Presentation

‘Enormous potential’ of small-scale livestock farming to help mitigate global warming

The challenge ahead is unequivocal,” says Mario Herrero, senior agro-ecological systems analyst with the International Livestock Research Institute. “We need to feed 9 billion to 10 billion people in the future at a lower economic cost, but also in a socially and economically acceptable way.”

Mario Herrero was speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, at a November ‘livestock live talk’ he gave at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The subject of his talk was ‘Livestock and global change: Towards a sustainable and equitable livestock sector’.

‘As food systems continually evolve, he points out, the research agenda must also adapt to satisfy societal and economic interests. This requires taking a look at the global picture of livestock production and related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, then identifying potential areas of mitigation. . . .

The developing world has enormous livestock mitigation potential, and this is largely associated with livestock practices,” he states.

‘While improving management strategies for cropland, grazing land and organic soils could reduce carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, changes to livestock feeding practices and genetic advancements have the potential to be effective strategies in decreasing methane. For example, certain feed additives can reduce methane production during rumination. Herrero also says that if crops yields are improved, livestock production could increase at a faster pace to meet growing demands. . . .

‘Feed and land use, he adds, will be the key drivers for determining the efficiency of the livestock sector.

The better we feed cows, the less methane per kilogram of milk they produce,” he points out. However, this can be counterproductive because as milk production increases, feed intake increases as well, and, thus, methane. Producing more milk with fewer animals is the way to reduce overall emissions. “The key here is less–but better-fed–animals,” according to Herrero.

‘He cites a study that estimated the potential for reducing methane from livestock in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Intensifying the diet for cattle by introducing a stover with higher digestibility could mean significant mitigation–more than a 60 percent reduction in methane produced and number of cattle needed to satisfy the projected demand for 2030. Even if the intensified diet were adopted at a rate of 23 percent, methane would be reduced by 14 percent. Acceptance and adoption of such practices is critical.

‘Another area that could be targeted for GHG mitigation is carbon sequestration, particularly in the vast rangelands of Africa. This could be an important income diversification source for landowners, but the challenges lie in measuring and monitoring stocks and establishing payment schemes.

Though each of these mitigation strategies have the potential to reduce GHGs, Herrero emphasizes that trade-off’s must be considered. “Mitigation in livestock systems requires the fundamental recognition that societal benefits need to be met at the same time as the environmental ones.”’

Read the whole article by Peggy Coffeen at Agri-View, an agricultural newspaper in Wisconsin, USA: Global livestock industry challenged to meet demands, reduce emissions, 6 Dec 2012.

View a related slide presentation given by Mario Herrero on Mitigation potentials of the livestock sector, on 13 Nov 2012. This was the fourth of a series of live-streamed science seminars organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.


Livestock live talks’ is a seminar series at ILRI that aims to address livestock-related issues, mobilize external as well as in-house expertise and audiences and engage the livestock community around interdisciplinary conversations that ask hard questions and seek to refine current research concepts and practices.

All ILRI staff, partners and donors, and interested outsiders are invited. Those non-staff who would want to come, please contact Angeline Nekesa at a.nekesa[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000) to let her know. If you would like to give one of these seminars, or have someone you would like to recommend, please contact Silvia Silvestri at s.silvestri[at]cgiar.org (or via ILRI switchboard 020 422 3000).

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